63: The Dress

63: The Dress

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

The Dress

Every girl deserves to be treated like a princess.

~Heidi Montag

“There it is, honey. That box there,” my frail mother softly said. I reached under the bed and pulled out a dusty, old wooden box. Sitting next to her, I brushed off the lid and opened it carefully.

“Oh, Mom, how long have you had this?” I asked as I shuffled through her keepsakes. I saw elementary-school report cards, high school and college diplomas, and letters my daughters had written in their crooked, little-girl penmanship. Then something in the bottom of the box caught my eye. It was a letter addressed to my mom in my handwriting. As I carefully opened it and began to read, my eyes filled with tears.

***

My mother was the daughter of a humble mechanic and a stay-at-home mom. Summer visits to my grandparents’ house were filled with fond memories. In my mind’s eye, I can see Grandpa in his old, dusty garage tinkering away and Grandma puttering busily in their tiny kitchen, making cookies that tasted like heaven on earth.

Mom carried with her into adulthood that same moderation her parents fostered in her as a youth. Dad preached in small churches in farming communities. He played the piano on Sunday morning, and she harmonized on the organ. When I came along, they were living happily on a shoestring. Upon graduating from the nursery, they sat me in the second row next to the center aisle where I sat perched each Sunday morning with my feet dangling haphazardly and strict instructions to “Behave!”

As a child, I didn’t realize how little we had. Mom made my clothes, and I always had a new dress for Easter and Christmas. This tradition endured into my teen years. Upon entering my adolescence, I resented our meager lifestyle. We couldn’t buy the expensive clothes the other kids wore. When my friends started driving their own cars to school, I suffered riding the bus. Shy and awkward, I did my best to be invisible.

Invisible, that is, until my senior year of high school. My friends and I were sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch one snowy December afternoon, waiting for an announcement about the upcoming Christmas Ball. Who would be the Prince and Princess for the Ball?

When the principal came on over the loudspeaker, announcing the result of the student-body vote, we expected the Princess to be from the same group of girls who always won, girls who we didn’t like much. Then I heard my name. WHAT? I looked over at my friends. Their mouths were open as they looked back at me.

Later that day, one of the boys from our class sat next to me and explained. He said that a number of boys had gotten together and decided to pool their votes. “We wanted a nice girl to win this time,” he explained.

Racing home from the bus that day, I was ecstatic to share the news with Mom and Dad. There were hugs and whoops and, of course, they said they weren’t surprised because they “always knew I was princess material.” After wading through a sea of satin and lace in a few of the shops the other girls had talked about, Mom and I quickly came to the conclusion that we were out of our league. Mom stated simply, “I will make your dress!”

She quickly went to work. Never wavering in her efforts to create a dress that would make every head turn at the Christmas Ball, she would smile and say, “After all, I’m sewing for a princess!” She truly was my fairy godmother. However, I did not have high hopes for the rapidly approaching event. I was certain that I would not look as pretty as the other girls when they appeared in their extravagant store-bought dresses.

Surprisingly, when the dress was complete, I was delighted with it. My mother had poured her heart into every stitch.

Then she surprised me more. “We’re going shopping!” Shopping trips were very rare at our house.

Mom hung my dress over the back seat of the car, and off we went to hunt for treasures to complete my ensemble. We found a necklace and earrings dripping with fake diamonds and rubies to match my red dress. “Perfect!” she exclaimed. We had shoes dyed bright red and found a red satin slip to wear under my dress. “Gorgeous!” she announced. It was an afternoon I would never forget.

We couldn’t afford any of what Mom bought me that wintry afternoon. But for my special night, she pulled out all the stops. My frugal mom went all out for her daughter who had the chance at a once-in-a-lifetime dream. Doing what only moms can do, she fully understood what mattered to my heart.

I showed up at my Christmas Ball looking every bit as lovely as any other girl in the room. It was a magical night. I danced. I laughed. I sparkled. At the end of the evening, I was crowned queen.

Years later, I was shopping for my own daughter’s school dance. In my mind’s eye, I wandered back to that cold December afternoon of shopping with my mom. That evening, I sat down and wrote my mom a letter.

Dear Mom,

Thank you so much for all of the sacrifices you made for my dance. Thank you for understanding me and making my dreams yours, even though they were far removed from what you grew up with. That was one of the few times I ever felt beautiful. It is my hope to be the mother for my girls that you have been for me.

***

I’m a grandma now. Many years have passed since that Christmas Ball, and my own girls are now buying Christmas dresses for their daughters. My incredible, unstoppable mother was finally stopped, by cancer.

The letter I wrote is in my own box of keepsakes now. It is a constant reminder of my frugal mother, who poured out extravagant love for her daughter. I hope I can be the mother and grandmother that she was, and that my daughters will someday remember that I loved them with the same extravagant love.

~Cindy Morris

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